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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

Special Educator Pooja Aggarwal Discusses ‘Period Management’ In Girls With Developmental Disorders

  • IWB Post
  •  October 4, 2017

As a part of ‘Mind Your Head’ Campaign, IWB seeks and wishes to promote free dialogue on the various mental health issues that are stigmatized by the society. Menstruation and Developmental Disorders being the two topics that are believed to be better not touched.

Earlier menstruation was a big hush-hush in the society, and many women saw it as an ailment that they were disguised with. And though it is fortunate that the situation is seeing a change, there is still a long way to go in making people believe that it is just another bodily function.

Women associate pain, cramps, and multiple pre-menstrual issues with their period cycle, but if you think about girls with intellectual impairment, the fight is even bigger. And to learn about how specially-abled young women deal with those 5 days of the month, IWB came in contact with Disha, a Resource Centre For Multiple Disabilities, in Jaipur, and spoke to their Special Educator, Pooja Aggarwal, regarding the same.

Excerpts below:
            Pooja Aggarwal                          

Do you have special sessions and staff dedicated to menstrual health education in your school?

Yes, we have daily sessions on sexual health education. The classes are conducted group-wise and by special educators, male teachers guide boys and female teachers for girls. And irrespective of their gender, the first concept that we teach them is “Good and Bad Touch”.

Menstrual health as a topic is first introduced to girls at the age of 8 years because unlike ordinary children, it takes them time to grasp and perceive. They usually get their first cycle at the age of 12-14, and that gives us time since we have to go slow and repeat one session many times.

How do you explain them the body changes in regard to menstruation?

We have various specially designed methods, and depending upon the child’s IQ level, we decide which to adopt and how much in-depth to go. Of course, age too plays a role, and so we start with the basics. In the beginning, we do one-hour separate sessions in our ‘Doll House’, a room that is specially set-up for the purpose. Through dolls, we introduce them to the female body parts, and make them easy with the concept of female body, touch, panties, and then go further. We usually don’t keep more than 6-8 students in one group, because irrespective of their comprehensive abilities, they need special attention and care.

Which are the other unique techniques that you use?

We make use of ‘Picture Cards’ and line drawings, and through them we share stories. Like for instance, I’d pick a series of cards that explain menstruation with a girl in the pictures, and I name that girl ‘Pooja’. This role-play makes it easier for them to relate and understand. Though as I shared, it is only after repeated sessions, that we can expect some absorption of information.

We also brief the mothers to talk about their period cycle in the form of “Special Day” at home, though it is often found that more than mothers, sisters are comfortable in talking about it. We ask them to share their experiences with the girls, and also to gradually show them sanitary pads, as and when they themselves have to use it.

Pooja Aggarwal

You mentioned the need of special care, what has been your observation regarding parents’ attitude for lifelong care in regard to menstrual health?

Well, parents also take time to adjust, and we extend all the help possible. But in the context of menstrual health, we’ve heard that some parents, are opting for uterus-removal surgery these days. But it affects their health, and our system is moved by the knowledge of such instances, we don’t agree with this practice.

Regarding the steps to manage, how do you train them to use and change the sanitary pad?

So once they reach the age of 11-12 years, i.e. close to when they might get their first cycle, we begin to make them comfortable with the use of pads. On two distant days of the week, we make them apply and wear a pad for one hour. And through it, we get to know about their response. Again, for girls who can comprehend well and fast, we make them use it directly on the day it is needed.

Are there any particular medicines prescribed by the doctor, if needed for menstrual cramps?

No. Until now we’ve never come across a situation where we had to give them a medicine.

And how do you make them understand the possibilities of the delayed cycle? Do they face difficulties in addressing?

See, we maintain calendars for all our girls and mark their ‘special days’ in red, which is done to make it easier for them to register it in their minds. And we ask mothers to maintain a similar one at home, for them to remember it as well. So this process keeps a check on their cycle, and also on the possibilities of delay. We slowly start talking to them about cycle and periods, and refer to physiological processes and body parts directly without using fancy words, because we aim to get them as close as possible to normal life.

Fair enough. What are the common behavior changes that they undergo during the pre-menstrual period?

They do experience the menstrual pain and cramps, but their mind doesn’t always help them perceive that discomfort and associate it with menstruation in particular. Just like ordinary children, it varies, some may get severe pain, and some may not. And depending upon it, we either let them rest by lying down or make them indulge in some light activity. Or if they seem way too troubled, we help them channelize that energy through easy physical exercises. And that benefits them a lot.

Not in this context, but I’d like to share that often what we see as them “showing a behavior”, which is how parents refer to it as is just them trying to communicate something that they themselves are not able to understand. We need to give them time and understand the possibilities, and then make the required efforts towards their conditioning.

And lastly, how easy or difficult is it to talk to parents regarding their daughter’s menstrual health? 

We first communicate with parents at the beginning of the session, and not together, but separately. Mothers often don’t open up easily with their husband by their side, so we talk to her first, and then call the Father. Fathers mainly need to be guided regarding the matters like not being involved with their daughter’s personal body routine after the age of 9-10, and mothers are briefed in detail about all our classes. We also call mothers various times in between the session for the same.

And we have to take special care regarding the way we communicate because an honest and open conversation can often be perceived as us being blunt and “too open”. Which says a lot about ‘menstrual-talks’ still being considered a taboo in our society. At our institute, both male and female staff is well-trained to not just communicate openly, but also comfortably. And for the same, we participate in various Continuous Education Programs (CEP).

Team IWB is heading to Disha to attend one of such sessions, stay tuned for the full coverage. 

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